Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013...The Year of the Do-Over

"I don't really know how I got here
But I'm sure glad that I did
And it's crazy to think that one little thing
Could've changed all of it…

...Thank God for all I missed
Cause it led me here to this"

It has been quite a while since I updated my blog, and with the new year a few hours away the timing felt right. This has been the strangest year I can ever remember. I probably say that every year actually, but 2013 might go down as the year I learned the most in my life.

Growing up I played summer softball. I wasn't very good at it, but I still look back on it as some of my fondest memories. One of the things I remember most was that our coach, Mr. Flansburg, had this great way of giving us a second chance, a do-over as he called it. I always thought it was about him finding a way to make us feel better if we didn't quite succeed, but after this year I look back and wonder if it was his way of making sure we had time to learn the lessons we needed to that we didn't get the first time. This year has been my do-over. Of a journey I hadn't even planned to take at this time last year.

I started out this year focused on an upcoming riding clinic and planning to show Joker. Somewhere around March that plan morphed into planning to buy my own horse. Who knew that decision would change my world so radically.

In April I bought B'sheret. Who I thought was my dream horse. A four year old red roan quarter horse, bred from the famous Invest 'n Vital Signs (a horse I had crushed on for a while). Sadly as I have recounted in earlier posts, he had some stifle issues and we had to return him to his previous owners.

I wont lie, when it happened I felt slighted by the world, I was hurt, I was angry, I felt robbed and seriously considered being done with horses. I thought the journey was ending and that made me really bitter.

What I can only see looking back now is that B' was never where the journey was headed. That he was just in my life for a short time to help me see what truly mattered in my life.

Shopping for B' had been easy, we found him almost immediately, he was local, everything happened very quickly. Shopping for the next horse wasn't quite that simple. If it had been I don't think I would have truly gotten the lessons I needed to out of it.

I shopped from July to November to find my next horse, Jasmine (Iza Cute Cowgirl, a 7 year old Appaloosa mare). Nothing seemed on the surface to go right through the process. We would get close on a horse and it would sell, or something totally unexpected would come up in the vet check, or we would change our minds on what was the right horse. And I cant say I always handled it all gracefully. There were a lot of tears, there was a lot of frustration, but at the same time there was also a ton of support and love around me. Not only were those closest to me helping me search, but by the time I found Jas, a good chunk of the Appaloosa show world was helping me too. People I had never met, people who I knew through friends of friends, they stood up and joined the journey. And to me that is one the greatest gifts of this year, the friends I made that I never would have if I hadn't shopped a second time, and the way friendships I already had were strengthened. I had to let people in and trust people in a way I have never done before.

Anyone who has known me for more than a week knows I am not very good at letting others help me (my first words I learned to speak were "I do it self"). I am skeptical, with reason, of people's motives, of if I am being played, of what the price will be later. So to allow friends and total strangers help me find a horse, to help me bring my horse home, to be on such an emotional journey with me was a challenge, but it was a lesson well traveled. Because when I look back at home Jasmine came to be mine, there is a trail of people who reached out to help for no reason but good hearts and wanting me to find happiness.

Through what started as one of the toughest times of my life ended up restoring a lot of my lost faith in humanity.  I was shown what really great people I have around me, that people can make promises they intend to keep, that we don't have to always handle the world our selves to be safe and that there are good people out there.

I am not going to lie, finding my new horse, wasn't without sadness. In November we said good bye to many of my friends at Woodloch, as my trainer was leaving and I decided to board Jasmine at another facility. Many of the people I showed with the last two years made similar decisions and we have all gone to our new barns. I love, love, love where I am boarding, Jasmine is in the best of hands, and I am very excited to be somewhere where showing Appaloosas is the focus, but it is hard knowing that I wont be in the arena next year with some of my friends as team mates. It makes having not shown this year a little harder to stomach (a lost last chance) but even in that has come lessons. About valuing what we have at the moment, because tomorrow comes with no guarantees, about telling people that you love them and they matter to you, because you don't know how long you have them, about not being caught up in the future and really focusing on how good today is.

I feel, as I often do, like this post should end with something profound. But the best I can come up with right now is a Thank you. Thank you to those people who stood by me this year, who loved me through the tears, who laughed with me through the smiles. Thank you to those people who made me a better person, even when I fought you. Thank you to those who stood by as I stumbled and were there to dust me off when I got back up. Thank you to those who offered help and assistance and who followed through on those offers. Thank you all for being part of my life and for allowing me to be flawed, and impatient, and moody and miserable and still loving me anyway!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Searching for Perfection through Imperfect Eyes...........................

"He's the perfect horse if it weren't for..............."

I am used to complicated relationships, they are the norm in my life (often the complication is my own doing) but I am learning fast that no relationship is more complicated than the one between a horse and its owner, and that is even more the case when you are talking about a performance horse. Our horses are the ultimate multi-taskers, they are our friend, our pet, our therapist, our vehicle and our sports equipment. And to find one that meets the criteria of all those things is rather schizophrenic at times.

I should probably back up and explain where I am at. I came very close this week to buying my next horse, a 3 year old appaloosa gelding. He was in so  many ways my dream horse (including the dream to have a younger horse to work with and help finish that I didn't even know I had) but at the very last minute (as we were literally figuring out when to pick him up) we found a unexpected health issue (arthritis) and had to walk away.

As someone searching for my next riding partner, my next vehicle, my next piece of high end sports equipment, I know this was exactly the right decision. It wouldn't have been fair to me to bank on things that he might not be able to do long term and it wouldn't have been fair to him to push him in ways that could impact him negatively down the road.

But beyond the functional logical sides of this I am struggling over, once again, feeling I have judged a living being in the same way I hate how others judge me. I don't believe at my core that only those things that are picture perfect should be given a chance, I think people miss amazing opportunities when they look past me and others because we don't fit the model the world dictates, and yet this process forces me to do just that. To meet my goals I need a solid, healthy horse and flaws have to matter. And I hate that! It makes me feel like such a hypocrite.

All of my pets have always been the misfits, the rescues, the runts of the litter. I have always championed for the underdog. I have spent nearly 20 years proving to the world that my own imperfections gave them no right to limit me, and now I need to only consider the cream of the crop, and that is not me. And it eats at me. And it is important  to me that it doesn't ever stop eating at me. As much as this process makes me make hard choices, I fear it making me callous and I cant let that happen. I need to keep knowing that while necessary it should be uncomfortable.

While I can't doubt the choices I made this week and with other horses I have passed on or with returning B', it should and does make me wrestle with my own morals and beliefs. It should and does makes me pause and question if my goals for a horse jive with who I am and checking myself for staying real. But thought that checking it also has to make me realize how important all this is to me that I would put myself through this tug of war multiple times because it matters to my future.

This struggle has also made me incredibly grateful I have really helpful, smart, straight forward people around me who keep me on the path I need to be on. Who point out when I am jeopardizing my future goals by letting my heart try to lead. I could not be more grateful to my vet and my trainer than I am today. They give me strength in areas I don't have.

In a few weeks I am off to have the ultimate horse shopping experience, at the Appaloosa World Show, and hope that I can find that right balance of a horse who touches my heart but is fit for its job and its future and that I manage to find the balance between my beliefs and my goals.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Show Season 2013.....

Today should have been the last show of my season, like so many others this year it didn't happen, and I spent the day home wishing I was there. For a season that barely happened, it may turn out to be the most educational of my lifetime.

It was a season I had big dreams for, and had put in a lot of work preparing for. I spent the winter riding multiple horses to advance my riding, I invested in traveling to a Wendy Murdoch clinic to help with some of my seat issues. My goals for the year had been to show in my age group and to show for the first time at the breed show level (my first season had been all open shows and I had always shown novice).

But, from the get go this season never quite felt right. Even before the season started it seemed cursed. In January we all held our breath while our horses battled strangles and we just hoped everyone would be healthy in time for us to have a season at all.

Then the schedule was published and drama ensued, overlapping shows, conflicts, worrying if I would get to have the season I had worked for. Looking back now those conversations seem so ridiculous and at the same time I wish I could go back to that place. Because those now trivial concerns were so much easier to fix than what would follow.

Somehow we got through all that and then I threw myself a curve ball. I decided to change horses, and bought B'sheret, barely a month before the first show of the season. We picked him up and brought him home 10 days before we planned to show him. A totally crazy plan but one that honestly I was so excited for. My own horse, our first show together. Etta and I both worked tirelessly to try to get him and I ready, to try to build as much of a relationship between him and I as we could in a little over a week. But despite all the effort again fate intervened. Three days before the show B's stifle locked up and we had to scrap the show plans and work on getting him whole again. I spent the day I would have been showing walking and conditioning B' and praying we would get past it.

To make up for it we plugged in an extra show a week later. We showed in halter, showmanship and W/T western pleasure, and Etta rode him in WP. It felt great to show him, but of course it wasn't without adventure. Ten minutes before my riding class a dog broke loose from it's trailer, charged us, B' spooked and I landed in the dirt. My first fall from a horse. But I did it I rode in my class. I look back and am glad I fought through it, because it turned out to be the only class I would ride in this season.

One week later we did accomplish my big goal for this show season, I got to show in my first breed show, an AQHA show. I showed B' in showmanship and Etta showed him in Western Pleasure. He handled the show so well and I remember how much promise I left that day feeling. This was going to be my riding partner for a long long time and we were going to rock it. Little did I know it would be our last show together.

Two weeks later as we were getting ready for our next big goal, the AQHA Regional show, my first show at the fairgrounds and in the coliseum, B's stifle locked a second time and the dream ended. I made the hard decision, with a lot of support from those around me, that the best thing to do was return B'sheret to his previous owners.

I still know in my heart it was the right decision but it has been far from easy. Losing him left me feeling really lost, something I still am trying to sort out. Without a horse I felt very separated from the barn and those around me there. I have fought a lot of sadness, have spent most days that should have been show days home in tears, and am still trying to find my footing.

Some of that footing though has returned with my old friend Joker, His owner graciously has allowed me to start leasing him again. This has done a ton to ground me, to help me fill the hole in my heart that only a horse can fill. Unfortunately pairing back up with Joker came really late in the season and the two remaining shows didn't work out schedule wise for him and I to show together this year.

It would be really easy to sit and think about all this and only see the bad, and I'll admit there are many days that is where I get trapped. But I have always believed everything, even the worst things, happen for a reason. That there are life lessons in everything we go through and in every challenge placed in our path.. And as much as I wish this season had looked a whole lot different than it had I did learn and change a lot through the cards I was dealt. Some of what I learned was:

How much I horses and showing are now a part of me. It is never lost on me when I am at my lowest over this and can't seem to stop the tears, that I am crying over something I never wanted to do in the first place, and two years ago not only could have cared less about, but would have run from. For something I was never going to do, it is now part of who I am, and losing it left me very unsure of who I was anymore.

No matter how bad it hurts you have to get up and get back on. Realizing you can fall, literally and figuratively, and it wont be the end of the world may be the biggest lesson I am walking away with this year. When I fell of B' that day it was pointed out to me how relieved I looked after I hit the ground. I had feared falling so much in the two years before that, that it had held me back as a rider. I did so much to protect myself fearing the fall, that I wouldn't relax and take chances. After that day my seat changed when riding, because I knew that I could fall, the world wouldn't end, people would there to help me back up and I could go on. And I really believe when I look back in a few years that is going to be the big lesson about losing B' too. That as much as this has all felt like the end of my world, and many times through it all I have considered staying on the ground, not buying another horse, giving up showing, once I am through it and look back I will realize that I made it through and will be less fearful of the next fall.

You find out who your friends are. All the philosophers are right, when the chips are down you find out who your real friends are you, who your fair weather friends are and who is really going to be there when you need them. Anyone who has known me very long knows that letting people help me and be there for me is a challenge for me. I fear it, I fear the cost of it, because growing up it always had a steep cost. And in most cases I try to avoid that risk. But through this season I really haven't had a choice, this was more than one person could handle alone. And I have been blessed to have a select few people around me who have stood by me, even when I did my best to shove them away. Who have put up with my moods, my attitude, my ugliness and have still hung on. Was everyone around me, that I thought were friends, that supportive, no. Sadly I found out that many people were less than true. But I am ok with that, because the value of those who have stood with me far outweighs the cost of shedding those who didn't.

I have the best trainer in the world. Of those people who have stood by me no one has done more for me and at the same time taken more crap from my than Etta. Through all the ups and downs, all my meltdowns and temper tantrums, she has somehow continued to believe in me, that we would get through this, has reminded me this is just a bump in the road and not the end. She has put up with me finding flaw with almost anything she tries to do to help me and has put me in my place when I needed it. She did the hardest thing in the world for me and returned B' to his owners so I wouldn't have to face that task and has helped me try to find the next riding partner. She helped me deal with my fears  that going back to Joker was a step backwards and has made sure I didn't give up completely. There is probably an award somewhere she deserves for all I have put her through.

This is not a sport for the faint of heart. Over and over again I hear the comments and read the debates about whether being an Equestrian is being an athlete and whether riding is a sport. If I had any doubts on either this season cleared those up fast. While riding may or may not be as athletic or demanding as other sports, I challenge any other athlete to face emotionally every day what we do being partnered with horses. Football players never have to worry if their ball will be lame, Baseball players never have to worry about their bat spooking, Golfers never have to worry about the tee being injured or not in the mood. We as equestrians not only have to have the skills to do our part, but we walk into every day with the unknown of what will happen with our partner. Beyond my own struggles this year I have watched others on our show team lose many shows to illness or injury of their horses, struggle with the impact of an aging horse and ponder what their future will be. In no other sport do you live with the unknown from one day to the next whether your partner will be able, willing and ready. You can prepare for months to have one misstep cost you weeks or months, you can plan and hope and pray only to come up empty. There were many days this season that I wished I was a ball player, or a rower, or almost any other athlete, where I could grab another piece of equipment off the shelf and move on. But we who ride, we go into it knowing that we live the unknown, the uncontrollable and the illusive, that more often than not our plans will be sidelined and we will spend our time bandaging, soaking, conditioning or just sitting on the sidelines watching. It would be easy to look at my season and want sympathy or tears, but the sad reality I have had to accept is to call myself an equestrian what I went through is part of the territory. This wont be the last time my season is threatened or trashed. That that risk is the cost to be part of this world.

PS Many have asked what now, yes, I am shopping for another horse. This round of shopping is going much slower for a bunch of reasons: 1) I have refined my wish list and it greatly narrows the horses available. This time I am holding to what my heart wanted all along and looking for an Appaloosa in a set age range with a specific set of skills 2) shopping during show season is much harder, there isn't much available, and 3) I am spoiled, outside of his stifle issues B' had some truly amazing qualities and I am not willing to end up with anything less this time. There is great irony in that when I decided to start shopping for a horse the first time around we had said that we weren't going to start looking til this fall or winter, but then moved it up, in some ways, I am right on schedule starting my serious shopping in October.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Corn marks on my heart....

Until I started horse shopping this past spring I had never really heard of a roan horse. My world was pretty much sorrels, paints and appys. I accidently fell across an ad for a red roan, Rocky, and was intrigued. Not only did something about them catch my eye but also my heart. As I read more about the color pattern (a roan is a horse whose solid color is mixed with white hairs) I learned how that their coloring is really the history of their life, roans wear their story for everyone to see. Not only does the proportion of color to white change yearly, but every interaction they have also changes them. Anytime a roan horse is bumped, bitten or injured the area around the wound is changed. It grows back in solid instead of roan. These permanent reminders are call corn marks. They illustrate the battles a roan has fought and survived in their life.

I couldnt have been more estatic when my dream horse, B'sheret, turned out to be a red roan. He had great breeding, great training and he was mine. All that is here in the blog, I wont repeat it all. But what I didnt know 6 weeks ago when we brought him home was that it was me who was going to end up with the battle scars to carry the rest of my life. That I was the one about to change.

Unfortunately in the last week I have to make a heart breaking decision to return B'sheret to his previous owners. In the short time we had had him his stifle had locked twice and despite our serious attempt at conditioning him we didn't seem to be making progress, and I was not willing to go to the extremes of blistering or surgery, I didn't feel it was fair to him at his young age. So yesterday with the heaviest heart ever we sent him back home.

I have spent a lifetime facing disappointment and pain, I get it life isn't fair and comes with no guarantees, but for all I have been through in my life this feels like one of fate's cruelest twists. I have never worked as hard on anything in my life as I have learning to ride and show and getting to the point of having my own horse and I do feel robbed now of that. Yes there are other horses out there, yes everything happens for a reason, I have heard all the platitudes and at some point I will probably look back and see this as a good thing, will see the purpose, but at this moment I'm not there. I just feel lost in all this. I have built my life over the last few years around horses and riding and for the first time in over 2 years I woke up this morning with no horse in my life. I am not sure what to do with that. For something I never had most of my life I now feel this empty void  and unending sadness.

A friend said the other day "this will leave a mark" when I told her I was returning B'sheret, she was right, this is my corn mark, a part of me I will always carry, the good and the bad, I am changed and B' will never be forgotten from the story of my life.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Month One....

“It won't be like this for long,
One day we'll look back laughing at the week we brought her home,
This phase is gonna fly by,
so baby just hold on,
It won't be like this for long
                   Darius Rucker

Hard to believe it has already been a month and hard to believe it has only been a month. B'sheret has been at Woodloch with me now for 4 weeks and 1 day. It has been crazy and amazing all at once.

We got off to a little bit of a bumpy start together, he had a medical issue the first week, his stifle locked up and we spent a day getting it unstuck. But from the moment Dr. Ed got him moving again we have been going non-stop and it has been a really great experience.

B' has come so far in the last month, once again my regret is I didn't videotape more of it, especially his first few days. When we brought him home and backed him off the trailer he looked around like he had moved to another planet (and in ways he had). He went from living with 4 or 5 horses on a very quiet controlled farm to living with 100+ on a very active, sometimes chaotic farm. He went from lots of inside time to outside 12 hours a day. He went from his nice quiet arenas to sharing arenas with lessons, and training and day camp and horses and ponies of every shape, size, color and breed.

But for all that change, he has handled it far better than I could have ever expected from a 4 year old. He is a sweet, calm, loving, level headed horse who wants to work hard and wants to learn and do what you ask of him. He is a super fast learner and watching him learn new things has been my favorite part of this month.

The newest thing we have taught him in the last month is showmanship (something he had not done previously). In a few short days he learned to walk with me, to trot with me, and in the last month his pivots are coming along really well and he has learned to square his feet. He has already been shown twice in this first month in showmanship and did great.

He has also learned to take in all the new sounds, smells and sights at Woodloch (and at the show grounds) and each day I see something else he is no longer concerned by. His courage and his trust in me and his trainer to take care of him has grown a lot. Even how he reacts when something does make him nervous has changed. When he first joined us his immediate reaction was "I am outta here, and good luck to my rider on not getting eaten". Today when he was worried about a paint pony who walked through the arena, you could tell he put a lot more thought into staying under me and thinking about what we should do it about it together, he much more wanted to keep his eyes on it than to escape from it. It's a lot of fun watching him mature and gain that confidence.

He is not the only one who has learned this month, he is teaching me a lot too, both in and out of the saddle. On the ground he has taught me about patience, taking time to teach and explore and just the value of simple things like going for a walk. Between needing to introduce him to WL and also trying to strengthen his stifle we have gone on many walks to different parts of the farm, time we wouldn't have had together under other circumstances, and they are some of my favorite memories from the last month. We have played in puddles, we have walked through the woods, we have explored, we have discussed Bob the cat and we have just hung out on those walks. Since I have traveled a lot this month and not been with him every day, those moments I have had alone with him walking around are precious memories.

In the saddle he is teaching me a very different way of riding than I had with Joker. He has different cues, more advanced cues such as a "spur stop" and so it is taking me being open to retraining my habits and learning him as much as him learning me. Another process I am really enjoying. He is making me grow as a rider every time I mount.

Part of the reason I bought a horse was to be able to start showing at the breed show level, in his case AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) shows. It was something I had never done with Joker and being able to do that for the first time with my own horse was a great day. He showed really well, both for me and Etta and handled it all like an old pro.

I was asked today if I could go back and do it over if I would buy him again, a fair question. The answer is unequivocally yes. Did I learn a couple things this month about some questions you should take into consideration when buying a horse (such as will your existing tack fit the horse, is the environment you are taking the horse from and too similar) but even if I had asked those questions and got the answers I have learned this month, I would not change my decision. He is the exact right horse for me in so many ways. He fits me where I need him to fit right now, and we will grow together in so many other ways. He is the horse I was destined to be with right now, my B'sheret, and I wouldn't change that in the least. While I will admit I have had some days recently of doubting if I am worthy of him, if I am a good enough rider to rise to his abilities, I have never once doubted if he is the right horse for me and what I want/need in a riding partner and best friend.

I can't end this post without thanking Etta (my riding coach/B's trainer) and Theo (my

farrier and go to person for a ton of little things). I could NOT have done this month without the two of them. So much of B's growth is from the outstanding training he is receiving, and a lot of my sanity is coming from the fact that every time I get over my head the two of them are there to catch me (and often are out in front of me before I even know I need the help). They have treated B'sheret with the same love and concern they would have given one of their own horses and that has meant the world to me.

The biggest lesson for me in these 4 weeks is no one does this alone, as much as I like to hide from the world and do it on my own, I have watched over the last month as I have become closer to the other boarders, our barn crew, my teammates on the show team, Etta and Theo. I have not only had to let them all in at times, but have also found I wanted to at times. That having B' has made me more a part of the community at our barn and has pulled me out of my shell a little.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Permission to fall....

B'sheret and I did our first show last together last weekend, an open show at our home saddle club. It was a really great day. He was a real pro and I was so proud of him. This was an outdoor show with a lot of new for him to absorb. He stood at the trailer so politely and calmly, he was great in our showmanship class (we placed 4th, which was awesome since he has never done that class before) and he handled three riding classes despite all the "scary stuff" around the arena. I could not have been happier with him. I spent a lot of the day just looking at him thinking if day 1 was this good how great will it be in a year to show him.

I can't say the day went off without a hitch, when we were warming up outside the arena a dog ran at us and B' was surpised by it, he tried to escape and I didn't go with him as well as I should have, and hit the ground. It was my first fall from a horse, a moment I have been dreading for 2 years. In my mind when I eventually would fall off (with horses it is when not if) it would mark failure. That despite it happening to everyone, usually many times, that for me it would mean all those insecurities I carry around would finally be proven true. That I am not a good rider and people were just humoring me, that my trainer would finally realize I am a waste of her time and would desert me,  that people would decide I don't deserve my horse. For me fear of falling has been much more emotional baggage than physical fear. And in a lot of ways I am glad it happened. Because when the dust settled all that stupidity in my head was proven wrong. I got up, dusted myself off and the world went on. I was banged up and bruised, but my trainer was still right there by my side, my horse was standing there waiting for me and when I got back in the saddle and headed into our class 5 minutes later my friends were still standing there cheering for me. The world didn't end because  I was less than perfect. Those ghosts I carry with me from my parents growing up didn't swallow me up like I had imagined they would.

I think that is a big part of the lesson B'sheret has crossed my path to teach me, that I don't have to always strive to be perfect and have all the answers. Through having to take the time to let him grow and mature at his pace I am having to also allow myself that space too, and as foreign a feeling as it is, it is also really liberating. Especially when it comes to showing.

Last year I felt this terrible burden all the time. That if I didnt show in every class possible right away, if I didnt place in every class I went into, I was failing. That if I only did walk trot I was less than everyone expected. That if I picked and chose what I felt ready to do I would be looked down on. I enjoyed showing last year, but I can't say I ever relaxed doing it or felt at ease. I put myself under this constant pressure to do more, be more, accomplish more and it took a lot of the fun out of it. I never felt safe enough to admit I needed to go slower, to tell anyone that there were times I wanted to do less for no reason other than I felt overwhelmed, that I needed more space to take it at a student's pace instead of trying to keep up with others. And I have no one to blame for that than myself, because the pressure all came from me and no one else.

This show season I feel like I am in a very different place, and a big part of that is due to B'sheret. Having a younger horse with so much we need to work on has really helped me find a different pace for myself. In giving HIM permission to be less than perfect and accepting his learning curve I have made some peace with my own too. In allowing him to take things slowly so he can acclimate and adjust I am allowing myself the same. And in doing that I am opening myself up to all kinds of new experiences. The biggest of which is showing at the breed (AQHA) level. Had I tried this last year, or even this year with Joker, I would have expected way more out of myself than I am ready for. I would have expected myself to compete in riding classes above what I am prepared for (especially at the lope), I would have overloaded myself with the number of classes, I would have beat myself up for not placing and I would have stressed myself to the point of misery. But with B'sheret, I have found comfort in trying just to do it. That if all we do is a class or two it is still success because we had the experience together, that if we are having a day where all that makes us both comfortable is a halter and showmanship class that is still us moving forward and if we walk away without a ribbon that is ok too, those will come, but for now it is about gaining arena time and time together. We have nothing to prove and no one to prove it to, he is my horse, I only have him and I to keep happy. No one can decide I am not worthy of him or take him from me so I can go at a pace that makes me comfortable.

I also am finding this new freedom is changing how I interact with my riding coach/trainer and others around me. In needing to have people help B'sheret, I am learning to let them help me. I feel like I am finally finding comfort in saying "I don't get it" or "I need help", phrases which used to terrify me. Back to the ghosts of the past, that showing vulnerability was setting myself up as a target. In doing what is best for my horse I have had to let that go. I cant do it all alone for him, or as I am learning, for me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Road to B'sheret is never easy.....

"But I don't want good and I don't want good enough,
I want can't sleep, can't breathe without your love,
Front porch and one more kiss, it doesn't make sense to anybody else,
Who cares if you're all I think about,
I've searched the world and I know now,
It ain't right if you ain't lost your mind,
Yea I don't want easy, I want crazy,
Are you with me baby? Let's be crazy"

Back to the blog again, trying to find a way to work out the flurry in my head...writing is my great solace. To catch everyone up, the horse I had been to looking at in my last post, is now mine. Vested Vitals, or B'sheret (his new barn name) came home to Woodloch 12 days ago. B'sheret means fate, destiny or meant to be. And I do believe that is what he was, meant to be. Buying him and bringing him home went so easily and I have great new friends in his previous owners. I belong on this journey right now.

But as with any journey that I have been on in my life, meant to be never meant easy or simple. I had to laugh when my vet yesterday was talking about different horse superstitions and pointed out the two whorls on his face (horse version of cowlicks) and that when you have a horse with two of them everything is going to be more of a challenge. Well of course, what else would I have. If it comes easy why bother, right?

Our first week together was pretty straight forward, we had a few lessons, we got to know each other and we were planning for our first show. We'll call that the honeymoon *smile*. Then Friday morning my phone rang way too early, B' had locked up one of his hind legs  (locked stifle) and we needed to call the vet. This became the scariest 12 hour day of my life. Walking in and seeing my new baby dragging his back foot and walking on the top of his hoof and not knowing if everything I had dreamed about was about to fall in on me. I will spare everyone all the technical explanation but if you want to learn more about what went on this article is really great. http://www.equinepi.com/pdfs/stiflearticle.pdf . The only thing that got me through the day intact was the amazing people around me. Our barn crew, my trainer (Etta), Theo (my farrier), the other boarders, and friends near and far. I was blessed to be so far from alone in it. And thanks to two amazing vets the day ended well. B's stifle was put back in place and he walked off like it never happened. He was all better, me not so much. No one call tell whether it will happen again or not and so I am holding my breath.

The best way to lower the odds of a relapse is as much exercise for him as possible, to strengthen the ligaments. So we have spent every day since going on long long walks together. This has been the silver lining in what happened. I have gotten to take him on "field trips" to parts of Woodloch he hasn't seen, through the forest, out to the fields, down different roads and we have gotten to know each other so much better. I love just hanging out with him. He is a smart horse and watching him process new things is a lot of fun. I am learning his fears, his strengths and how we can work together better as a team. We missed our first show, but we are much closer for it.

Yesterday the vet came back and we did the routine stuff we had planned...teeth, sheath (boy parts), shots, chiropractic/acupuncture and shoes. It was a good appointment (I adore his vet, very straightforward, very intelligent but also very disarming and humorous) but there were lots of little things that came up - he has an overbite, he is tight in the neck, he has thin hoof walls, just little things. But I have to admit it set me spinning. I think it was the culmination of the days before it. I just feel overwhelmed and lost.

I have scientifically understood everything that I have heard and learned in the last 5 days, I have a medical background, I can talk the talk, but I don't have a horse background and I am realizing how much that hurts me. Because while I can tell you physiologically what it all means, I cant tell you what (if any of it) matters to my future (and his) and what doesn't. And that plays with my insecurities. I am drowning in my own doubts. Do any of these things change our goals? Do they change our future? Should I have caught them before I bought him? Would I have made a different decision? Did I rush into this? What do I need to do to make sure we have a long long time together?  I don't know what I don't know and that space is where I stop breathing.

I had to take today off from the barn and regroup (thank god I have a trainer who can keep an eye on him and exercise him so I can say I need a break). This is my baby, my horse, and no matter what we are in it together so I need to get myself together and back to moving forward!!!! He deserves no less from me.

In trying to make sense of the last few days for myself my head and more importantly my heart has been thinking a lot about human parents, specifically those who give birth to a child who quickly falls ill and how their lives fall apart in a heart beat. How you look at this great promise and dream that has come into your world and in a breath your future freezes and becomes a gray unknown. Before this week I could not understand that suffocating feeling, but now I get it. And it is a horrible place. You are in the middle of an angst beyond words and are being pummeled with facts and statistics and terminology that overwhelms you, you want to freeze, you want the world to stop until you can make sense of what is happening, but it only spins faster, you have decisions to make, decisions about things you know nothing about. Your heart is paralyzed yet your brain is expected to function in overdrive. You are responsible for choices you are ill equipped to make, but which will determine the future of a being you would trade your life for. All you want is someone to wake you from the nightmare and they can't.

I was lucky, we don't know if B'sheret's issue will return, I don't fully understand if anything from his vet visit will be a concern down the road, but at this moment he is happy, healthy and we move forward together. But I am changed, I am in some ways harder for it, in some ways my heart has grown. I have found a new compassion for a group of people I never shared commonality with. I have a new goal, I would like to find a way to be part of a charity that helps parents with ill newborns, I want to give back some of what was given back to me this week! I don't want what happened this week to be forgotten, I want it to better the world.

B'sheret has already changed where my life will go, and I sure hope it is just the beginning....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

730 Days.....

Two years ago today, my life changed, I gave in to a friend's nudging, faced my absolute fear of horses (previously known as "big bad scary monsters") and took a riding lesson. To say my life turned a corner that day is an understatement of epic proportion. And in many ways the last two years is a blur. I have asked a couple times "how did we get here", from me sitting on Snapper screaming because he took a step to buying my own horse in two years (btw I did end up buying the horse I talked about in the last post, I AM A HORSE OWNER!). And originally this blog post was going to be around how I don't get how we got here, but then last week I read a blog post by my sister-in-law Katie http://www.runthisamazingday.com/2013/03/it-is-our-light-not-our-darkness.html . Katie is a great writer and I find a lot of her posts inspiring, but this one really hit me...hard...hard enough that I decided I needed to change my view of things, and as a result this post. So I still plan to answer "how did we get here" but instead of a question I am going to answer it and give it the credit it deserves, and allow myself to shine.

How did we get here.....

I worked my butt off!!!!!!!!

For those that don't know my full story here's the micro version of the long story (btw feel free to read back, it's all here). On May 15, 2011 when I got on a horse for the first time my body was very different than it is now. I was unable to cue a horse with my legs at all, I had difficulty mounting and in addition to having to overcome my fears I had lots of physical limitations in my way too. I also was unable to walk without tripping let alone jog with a horse for showmanship. These physical limits had been long standing (from a surgery error in 1996) and at that point I would thought they were what they were. I wasn't starting where anyone new to horses was, but I was back even further. I had a negative scorecard to overcome just to get to being a newbie.

But I did it, I spent a couple lessons working on mounting, I spent hundreds of hours working on getting my legs to move and sense and work with the horse, and I spent countless nights (making sure no one was watching teaching my body to first walk easily with my horse and then to jog). I tripped, I fell, I swore but each time I got back up and kept going. But I did it, and there is no moment in the two years I value more than the day I told my riding coach I wanted to do showmanship in our first show and when we went to practice and she told me I could walk the jog part I could look at her and tell her "no worries I got this" and off Joker and I went (she had no clue what I had been up to).

Beyond the physical I have also worked to learn a lifetime of horse information in 24 months. I am very envious of people who learned how to care for a horse, first aid, health issues, tack, nutrition, and all that goes with being around horse at a slow natural pace. I however took the accelerated course. I have devoured many books, I have read articles on line, I have gone to clinics, I have watched others any chance I get. I made it work.

Nothing about the last two years has been easy, but I know I have also never given anything I have done more of my heart and mind. For any short fallings I can blame myself for, it is not for lack of trying.

I surrounded myself with amazing people!!!!

I am a big believer that it isn't about knowing everything, it is about knowing who to go to for what you don't know. And I have been surrounded by some truly great horse people these two years. I have had a riding coach/horse trainer who from day 1, moment 1, has believed in me (far more than I often did), who has seen past my physical issues and my fears, and has never given up on me. People cross our path for a reason, and Etta being the instructor I had at Woodloch on day 1 was beyond fate. On day 1 she told me there was a cowgirl inside me somewhere, she saw it long before I did. And every day since she has been there, through 100's of riding lessons, with pep talks, with a helping hand and with more patience than should be possible. It has also been a blessing how out of the box she can be. We have had to find mounting solutions for me that aren't the norm, we have had to work with my horses at learning new cues, we have had to accommodate my body in different ways, but never once has Etta given up until we solved it. She has allowed me time for extra lessons, for brainstorming and the occasional melt down and panic attack. She was the one standing at ring side at the shows last year telling me each time I went by that I was ok, that the judge hadn't seen whatever bobble I was freaked about, who knew what fear I was fighting without saying it and had a solution ready.  I have never had to be anything with her but me, and that is rare in my life. Probably her greatest gift to me was finding me my great riding partners, both with finding Joker to lease (again she knew that was the right answer before I was willing to hear it) and now with my new horse B'sheret, her great judgment has been my key to success.

Woodloch Stables, where I board, was also part of fate. This is an amazing facility, which was built on the concept that teaching comes first and foremost. The owners are hands on and always ready to help out, the barn crew has been there to answer my incredibly stupid questions (the first week I leased Joker Geneva got asked more than once "Is this the right horse") and I have never asked another boarder for help and not had 5 come running. It is a special place. I also love that it is a place for normal people...all ages, all sizes, all abilities, all riding interests and disciplines, everyone belongs. When you are new, scared and pretty insecure that matters. To have found this all from a LivingSocial coupon still leaves me dumbfounded.

One other person I really have to thank is Joker's owner Jessica. She took a big chance on me 20 months ago. She was trusting someone incredibly new to horses with her baby, when I decided I wanted to show she was there cheering us on and she has been this amazing teacher and source of stability as I weaved my way through learning to take care of a horse. She never laughed at me when I checked with her on little bumps and bruises, she taught me how to roll with it when it was scarier issues and has never once made me feel inadequate or self conscious about my lack of knowledge. I have learned so much leasing from Jess that I will try to carry forward with me owning my own horse.

I can't leave out my personal trainer Nick either. For me learning to ride and working on my riding has never stopped when I leave the barn. Just like Etta Nick has had to come up with some really creative answers for how can we turn what we do in the gym together into a benefit for my riding. We have used exercise balls as horses, we have worked on stretching and strengthening muscles that were a problem, we have frozen on morning jogs. Never have I asked for help with something riding related and been turned away.

I also am blessed with an amazing group of friends, local, across the world and via social networking, who have trotted along with me for two years. And that circle has been greatly expanded with horse friends. You all celebrate with me on the good days, and patch me up on the bad. For someone who doesn't have much family interaction, this support is invaluable and has gotten me through this crazy roller coaster of a journey.

I have had stellar riding partners!!!!

From Snapper on day 1 to B'sheret beginning next week I have been blessed with great horses. Snapper, Cheyenne, Cody, Kola, Joker, Wiley and most of the school horses at Woodloch. Each taught me something, both about riding and about myself. Each worked with me with my body and my different ways of riding. They have been patient, helpful and just plain fun. Their time in my life ranged from hours, to days to months, the longest obviously being my best friend Joker at 20 months, but not one of them will ever be forgotten. They each made me the rider I am today and are part of me. They have been my teachers and my therapists. None less than Joker.

I could not have asked for a better teacher these last 20 months than Joker. He quickly learned my body and always figured out how to work with me. From him waiting patiently and letting me balance on him while walking through a muddy or snowy pasture to get him, to working his heart out to stay underneath me when my own body wasn't stable, to all those hours of me learning to jog for showmanship, one step at a time. He has truly been my angel. And I have to admit the thought of moving on from him is incredibly bittersweet for me. I am moving on to a new riding partner, but I have a feeling a big chunk of my heart will stay with my big brown buddy. He and I shared so many of my firsts, and no matter how many horses are in my future, he will always be the horse who made it all happen.

Next week I start a new chapter in my life, I bring home to Woodloch MY first horse, B'sheret (which btw means destiny, fate, or meant to be in Hebrew) and I know the time will continue to fly but this first two years will never be replaced. I have worked harder than I ever thought possible, I have given all I had, and I am pretty damn proud of myself for how far I have come! I can't wait to see what comes next.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Out in the Hay....

Know it has been a while since I posted here, I hope you have visited my temporary blog at http://equindultry.blogspot.com/ , but today is one of those days I need to sort out my mind and it is going to take writing.

So first the very short version of a long long story. I have decided it is time to buy my own horse. I adore Joker, I always will, but it is time for the next step in my journey and his. I need a horse more geared to the type of showing I want to do, I need my own horse to have the freedom to show when and where I want and I need a horse that I can mold to me. Getting to where I know that has been a shocking and unexpected path. Two months ago I thought Joker was going to be my show horse forever. I see now that isn't the path I am headed down. So I have started shopping.

The goal horse is a 5-8 year old gelding, 15.1 hands or taller, with a really killer western pleasure trot and lope. I want to be able to show in showmanship, western pleasure, horsemanship, trail and eventually western riding. I want something with an amazing heart and mind that can not only be my work horse but is also going to be comfortable being my play horse. It can head out for trail riding and horse camping or hang out in the grass with me as comfortably as it can head into the ring at champ show. Oh and if possible I would like it to have some unique coloring or markings too (trying to stay away from just another big brown horse), so I am look at Appaloosa's, roan QH's and other QH's.

I knew finding all this, and being super picky about its movement was going to be a long slow process. I have pretty strict requirements on a mediocre shopping budget, but I didn't expect this to be the emotional journey it is. But it seems anything you do related to horses immediately finds your core vulnerabilities. I am one horse in on my shopping and already feel brought to my knees emotionally.

Saturday I went and looked at a 4 year old red roan quarter horse, Vested Vitals (Ritzie).
VV is from amazing breeding. His sire is the legendary Invest N Vital Signs (who is out of Vital Signs are Good). For those not well versed on QH pleasure bloodlines, these are big time. And the line is even more coveted because Invest N Vital Signs passed away unexpectedly at age 6. To find a horse with that breeding in my price in my backyard shocked me. And even if I don't get to buy him, that I rode him leaves me pretty awestruck, but it also plays into my insecurities about him.

I can also say riding a true Western Pleasure horse is like NOTHING I have ever ridden. They don't make good words for the difference (have struggled for a couple days to find them). The only thing I can say is go drive an old manual transmission car with no power steering, then go drive an automatic sports car. That is the closest comparison I can come up with.  My first reaction was "omg I have been working way too hard up to now". He was cadenced, consistent, smooth, light, easy and he did the work. I didn't have to ask him to set his head, he knew where it went and kept it there, I didn't have to keep changing his speed, he knew how to stay there himself. It was so easy and enjoyable. I also have to admit I was pretty proud of myself riding him. There were some concerns we had going in. Most well trained WP horses are trained to work off their riders legs almost exclusively. For me that is a challenge, because of my nerve damage. I need a horse that can also learn other cues, verbal, rein, seat. I was over the moon that I could get him to respond easily to me, even though his current owner is very leg/spur dependent. He has the mind to be able to work with me.

It wasn't all positives, he is young, younger than we had planned. He needs some work on his manners and his space vs mine (he is the horse that I can see trying to cuddle with a judge). And those are all easily do able but again where my insecurities slip in.

So I am sure everyone is waiting for the outcome to the story, I don't know it. There were other people looking at him Sunday and we left it as I would wait to see how that went and then decide if I pursue this further or not (vet check and trainer ride). But now I am struggling with that decision too. Which catches us up to today....because what the last three days has done is made me look in the mirror really hard....and while nothing I see surprises me at all, it is hard to face. Here it is...

1) I am having a VERY hard time allowing myself to realize I deserve something like this horse. I hear my mother's voice in my head over and over, telling me I am being a snob, telling me this is a luxury I don't need, that I am spending way too much money. That this is the horse for a better rider who can live up to his genetics. Who am I to think I am worthy of this horse.

2) I spend most of my life feeling I am in the way, that I am a burden, that I am asking too much of other people, that I have to come last and that is definitely working against me here. Both with horse shopping and with my trainer. I got to the meeting Saturday and instead of taking the time to do all I wanted to and needed to (riding him, grooming him, taking him outside and watching his reaction to strange objects) I raced myself through the meeting, because I didn't want to bother the sellers (yeah I know that is dumb). And they were the nicest people but I still felt in the way. I am struggling with it with my trainer too, asking for more of her time to look at horses, to help me figure it out. I just slip right into being in the way and being a bother.

Total truth I really didn't want to go look at him Saturday alone, I knew my weaknesses I knew I needed to take a friend with me to help me be more secure, but since it was horse expo weekend, and people were busy and it was short notice I really didn't push anyone to go with me. Again I put me last, and I regret that now (but sadly know I would probably do the same again). And total disclosure I let myself be really hurt that none of my friends just stepped up to go with me. I get very stuck in measuring my own worth off what I would do if the tables were turned and the "emotional logic" of "if they cared they would do it, so they must not care".

3) Like I said, VV is young, he is going to take work, he will be a project. And I am ok with that, in some ways I want that. I like training my horse, I love the feeling of accomplishment when I can reach that goal and know it was my doing. But at the same time I am afraid. I am afraid of getting this really great horse and messing it up, of doing things wrong, of failing. And I logically know that is stupid, that I wont be doing this alone but still all the lessons for decades ago about making mistakes and losing people because I wasn't perfect are flooding back at me and standing in my way. I am afraid to let myself try because what if I can't.......

4) oh and then there is my favorite, fear of making the wrong decision. This is the one that could have me looking at horses for 100 years,  because while my gut says this is the one, what if my gut is wrong, what if I am not seeing the whole picture. I have been wrong so many times about people and situations in my life I don't even trust my judgment any more.

So where does this all leave me, stuck. Waiting to find out if someone else buys him is probably a really good rationalization for that stuck, but I know darn right well I would probably be just as stuck if that wasn't the case.

I need to get unstuck today!!!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Been a While....

WOW! I can't believe how long it has been since I last blogged on here, over 7 months. I haven't forgotten this blog, but life has been on an interesting path lately, horse related. For at least a short time I am going to be keeping a separate blog "Equindulty". I hope you'll join me there.

I promise once I get through April I will update this blog or make a shift there!

New blog will be living at" http://equindultry.blogspot.com/